Purdue plans to strengthen computer science program, educate more students

November 7, 2013  


WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Strengthening computer science through a 27 percent increase in undergraduate and graduate student enrollment capacity and additional support for strategic research programs is part of a series of initiatives at Purdue University.

Sunil Prabhakar, a professor and head of the Department of Computer Science, highlighted the increasing demand across all industries and sectors for graduates with the ability to analyze and work with very large sets of data.

"We have entered an age of big data, where every day massive amounts of digital data are produced that could provide valuable insights for science, agriculture, business and government," he said. "Without more computer scientists and greater advances in the tools we use to derive meaning from these massive data sets, economic development and research will slow dramatically. Purdue's computer science program is the oldest in the nation and this is yet another opportunity for it to serve as a national model as we prepare more students to design and use technology that will inform policy and drive decision making on the local, national and global levels."

Prabhakar and Jennifer Neville, an associate professor of computer science and statistics, discussed the Purdue Moves initiative during a presentation Thursday (Nov. 7) at the President's Forum.

"The world is just starting to realize what statisticians and computer scientists have known for years - data is power," Neville said. "In the era of big data, where data is being collected at unprecedented rates, computer scientists have a unique set of abilities needed to harness this power. That is why their computational and engineering skills are, and will continue to be, in such high demand. This demand is even greater for students with training in data mining and machine learning, since they can take an algorithmic approach to statistical modeling of data."

Employment of computer and information research scientists is expected to grow by 19 percent from 2010-2020, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Prabhakar said that prediction is especially significant given that these workers are already in demand.

"Our students have a near 100 percent placement rate that usually includes multiple offers upon graduation, and our corporate partners span a broad range of industries from Google to Land O'Lakes to Caterpillar," he said. "Student enrollment in computer science is robust and growing, as is the need for these skills."

The initiative also includes plans to create special programs in the area of data science for several majors, including computer science.

"Big data is transforming all disciplines and the increasing demand for these skills is evidence of the more central role computer science is playing in business, research and education," he said. "Being able to understand and use the powerful tools provided by computer science to evaluate data will be a vital part of top level positions across a broad range of fields in the future."

The plan also includes hiring additional faculty and staff in order to continue to deliver the high level of education and research for which the department is known and to expand its leadership in the area of computing, he said.

Purdue will build on its research strengths and centers including the Center for Education and Research in Information Assurance and Security, or CERIAS, the world's largest multidisciplinary academic center addressing information security and privacy; the Cyber Center, a center focused on cyberinfrastructure and creating systems and tools to disseminate and preserve scientific and engineering knowledge; and The Science of Information Center, the state's first National Science Foundation Science and Technology Center for which Purdue was awarded $25 million to develop a new understanding of the representation, communication and processing of information in biological, social and engineered systems.

The computer science initiative also dovetails with an earlier announced initiative to strengthen Purdue's leadership in developing new and novel ways to help feed a rapidly growing world population.

A "cyber-sustainability" program will be developed in collaboration with Purdue's College of Agriculture to help analyze and process the massive amounts of agriculture-relevant data collected and reveal valuable insights to improve farming practices, Prabhakar said.

"There is tremendous untapped potential in the data that is being collected," he said. "The tools created through computer science are what will allow us to leverage that data to make the most data-driven and informed decisions, regardless of the application."

The university initiatives were selected and developed over several months of work that involved deans, faculty and others at the university. Purdue's trustees also have reviewed and given support for the program. 

Writer: Elizabeth K. Gardner, 765-494-2081, ekgardner@purdue.edu 

Sources: Sunil Prabhakar, 765-494-6010, sunil@cs.purdue.edu

Jennifer Neville, 765-496-9387, Neville@purdue.edu

Related web site:
Center for Science of Information

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